Arthur Levine has been studying the zeitgeist of college students since 1980, when he published an important study on the core beliefs and attitudes of students, “When Dreams and Heroes Died.”
But every 10 years or so Levine is forced to start again from scratch; a new generation emerges with completely different fears, hopes and convictions. His latest, “Generation on a Tightrope,” co-authored with Illinois State professor Diane R. Dean, is one of the most thorough studies of Millennial students to date.
The authors surveyed more than 5,000 students and 270 student affairs officers and conducted focus groups on more than 30 campuses. For Levine, one result stands out among the piles of data: This is the most practical-minded generation he has ever studied.
Levine entered the project believing 9/11 would be a shared, defining moment for Millennials, similar to the Great Depression and Vietnam for previous generations. But he quickly discovered that the advent of the Internet and the economic crash of 2009 were far more influential. “More of them feel that money is critically important than we’ve seen in the past. They pick majors that they think will earn them money as opposed to what they want to study,” explains Levine. “And, who can blame them? It’s a scary time to be growing up. This is a generation that works more hours while going to college than ever before — just in order to afford it.”
Strengths and weaknesses
Levine notes that, like every generation, Millennials have strengths and weaknesses.
“Race relations have improved dramatically. This generation tends to be wonderful at working in diverse groups. They are terrific at networking and building teams. However, they seem to be very dependent on adults — more so than before. They want someone to set the rules for them. And that could be a problem, because we’re entering into a period in which change will be the norm.”